We FINALLY convinced our Great-Uncle, Robert Andreou (Uncle Bob) to come on the show. 

Enjoy engaging antidotes from this hard-working store owner and the practical insights and bits of wisdom that spill out as he shares memories from his days in Downtown Chicago. 

Transcript Below

Introduction: Welcome to the Leadership U Podcast.

Christina: Hi everyone! Christina here, and I’m very excited to introduce our special guest for today’s podcast. It’s none other than my great uncle – Robert Andreou. I’ve been trying to convince Uncle Bob to come on the show for a while now and after promising to make him his favorite greek sweets, he finally relented. Today’s episode was supposed to center on the topics of Leadership and Hard Work, but I think you’ll enjoy the many rabbit trails and hilarious stories that emerge instead. I haven’t laughed this hard in a while and I’m sure you’ll love the practical insights and wisdom he shares in his stories from the past. Enjoy the show.

Christina: Okay. Now we’re ready. Alright, so hard work.

Uncle Bob: Yes, ah, my brothers invited me to come down to the store one day to sweep uh, and for a couple of hours they gave me a candy bar, and little by little before you know it, 35 years passed and uh, there I was, still sweeping the floor and earning candy bars. And uh, it was a very interesting stay. Many stories. Different kinds of customers. When you’re in the food business you deal with everyone from homeless and winos up to bank presidents and stock brokers. They all have one common denominator, they all have to eat. And you have to learn how to deal with all types of people. People without brains, people with brains, and people who think they have brains. And then there’s always, uh, a few colorful characters coming in. Um, nah. “Hold my money” okay, “Don’t give it to me no matter what I tell you” and then the next morning he’s there waiting for me, 6am in the morning. “Give me my money or else.” I give him the money, 3 days later he comes back, “Why did you give me that money? I told you not to!” I told him, “GET OUT and don’t you ever come back.” Yes, okay.

Christina: That’s good.

Uncle Bob: Okay. Now would mom like to say something?

Christina: No. This is Uncle Bob’s turn. I’ve got a couple more questions for you.

Uncle Bob: Fine.

Christina: Okay. So, explain what the store was. Like, how did you get it and everything.

Uncle Bob: What the store was? Well, we sold everything from soup to nuts. We sold cars, we sold clothes, we sold uh sandwiches, oranges, apples, garlic, Chinese food, Mexican food. You name it, we have it. You want it? We have it the next hour. On demand.

Christina: That’s awesome.

Uncle Bob: Very busy from 5’oclock in the morning to 9 at night.

Christina: And it was you and your three other brothers that ran the store?

Uncle Bob: And my mom. My powderpuff mom was there. And our sister-in-law, Emily, of course, was helping out. She was our lottery girl and our pick-up girl. It was a family affair, it ran very well, and believe it or not 35 years the brothers never had one argument about anything.

Christina: That’s amazing. Incredible.

Uncle Bob: Each person has his own job, and we all did it well and everything worked out pretty good.

Christina: So what was your job?

Uncle Bob: Catch all. You name it. I was the banker. And uh…what’s your name again?

Christina: Christina.

Uncle Bob: Christina. Christina’s grandfather was the bookkeeper. He couldn’t add two and two together but he was our bookkeeper. The rest of us had different departments.

Christina: How about Uncle John?

Uncle Bob: Uncle John was the bouncer of the group. He had a rubber hose with a piece of steel in the toe, and we use it a couple of times on a few characters.

Christina: When needed.

Uncle Bob: When needed, you know, we had shoplifters we had all sorts of things going on.

Christina: So, so any other stories you could tell us about hard work, like how you learned the value of hard work?

Uncle Bob: Well it wasn’t really hard work. When you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not hard work. Hard work is something you do if you don’t really like to do it, then it’s hard. I don’t care what it is, it’s going to be hard, but if you like doing what you’re doing, it comes very easy. I mean, we were working 12-13 hours a day, 7 days a week. Didn’t bother me. No vacations. The store was our entertainment and everything else. It was a story a minute in that place.

Christina: Did you have people that you hired and brought in to help you run the store?

Uncle Bob: Very few. We did most of it ourselves. We had maybe, you know, people would clean up stuff, like stock the shelves, but nothing more. We would handle all the cash. We didn’t trust ANYBODY. I don’t want to tell you about our cigar boxes.

Christina: What, what are the cigar boxes?

Uncle Bob: We had a little tiny cigar box for the wives, and a little cigar box for miscellaneous bills, and our giant cigar boxes for ourselves. The girls would get a little tiny cigar box of money. Then we invested all the money and the four of us retired at pretty young ages. Bought some stock and buildings with the money. The store produced quite a bit of money for all four of our families.

Christina: Why is hard work important though?

Uncle Bob: Well, there’s no other way to do anything. You have to work hard and luck is called L-U-C-K. LABOR UNDER CORRECT KNOWLEDGE. Nothing comes easy.

Christina: That’s right. Where there any times you felt like giving up?

Uncle Bob: Never. We went through storms, we went through snow storms, we went through floods, we went through name it. We were there every day. Rain or shine. The store was open no matter what. Okay, what else?

Christina: What other kinds of work did you do in the store?

Uncle Bob: We did banking for people. Kept records for them. Picked up their mail. It would come to us and we would forward it to them. Of course, a slight comission involved but…. Nothing comes free. We had a little Department of Financial Affairs. I was in charge. And of course, you know we would cash people’s checks. We took care of all kinds of problems.  You had a problem, we solved it for you…minus a small commission.

Christina: How did you learn the ethic of hard work?

Uncle Bob: From my daddy. He worked hard every day and we learned from my daddy.

Christina: Tell me about his work.

Uncle Bob: Well, he worked for the railroad and he would put in 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. And he would not take a vacation. He worked. Never took a trip on the railroad, by the way. He had free transportation wherever he wanted to go. I think the furthest he went was Brookefield Zoo which was about 10 miles away. And then he got sick on the train and he never rode another train. Just repaired them. That was it. CB&Q Railroad.

Christina: And he was a little bit tight with his money, huh?

Uncle Bob: Uhhhh, more than tight. The man would make his own shoes if he could. He had a pair of coveralls on, I went to his job one day, if he had those coveralls today, they would be a collector’s item. He had all kinds of big patches with big sewing, you know. Oh, it was just the only thing you’d recognize from the original overall was the buckles. Everything else was patched.

Christina: That’s cute.

Uncle Bob: I think that thing lasted him 25 years. That uh, clothes he wore.

Christina: And wasn’t there one time where he thought that he lost money?

Uncle Bob: Well, one time he was going to the bank. Yes, he had the bank books and some little cash in one hand, and he was going down the stairs. He found a little trash and we had a furnace at that time that burned coal. And he went down and said, “I think I’ll throw this trash in the furnace and then I’ll go to the bank”. So he opens up the door, the furnace is going full blast, he throws the stuff in and wound up he threw his bank book in there and it burned up. Then he came upstairs, he was pale as a ghost. His hands were smoking. I said, “Dad, with what happened?” He stuck his hands in the fire trying to get the bank book out of there and his hands all got burned. So we took him to the hospital. We’re sitting there. The nurse comes in and he had his wedding ring on, and she says “Well we’re gonna have to cut that ring off so we get your hands off patched up.” But he said, “I don’t want you to cut my wedding ring.” So they got into a big conversation, and a doctor was passing by and the doctor said, “I’ll take care of this nurse”.  So he took a string and he wrapped it around my Dad’s finger real tight and then stuck the string under the ring. Unwound it and the ring came right off. So then my Dad put his hand on his head, like you know, to say, “See how smart the doctor is! That’s why he’s a doctor and you’re a nurse.” And I told him, “Dad, be careful, that nurse has got a six-inch needle to jab in you and you’ll learn to salute, believe me.” What else?

Christina: So you learned your hard work ethic from him.

Uncle Bob: My dad and my mom, she was very industrious.

Christina: Was she? Tell us about her.

Uncle Bob: Oh, with her conversations very industrious, but she was a little bit lazy. You know she would sit on a chair and point with her foot what to do.

Christina: What about the giant pancake?

Uncle Bob: Yeah, she made one big frying pan. Instead of making a bunch of small pancakes, she would make one giant pancake as big as a frying pan. And the center was not cooked properly. But she made my dad eat it anyway. She was a L-A-Z-Y.

Christina: And there was um, how many kids?

Uncle Bob: Six.

Christina: Six kids.

Uncle Bob: Mmmhmmm.  Six, six kids. She has six kids in 10 years. Very productive. She was a hard worker too. And we all look just like her. That’s the bad part. About hard work, well as I say, hard work, work is not hard if you enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s very hard. You can be just sitting on a chair. If that’s hard for you, that’s going to be hard for you. Right?

Christina: Right.

Uncle Bob: If you like sitting on a chair. It’s easy. Right? If you don’t like sitting on the chair…very difficult. You want me to tell you the car story?

Christina: Please!

Uncle Bob: OK, this gentleman came in the store and he wanted a radio for his car and in the morning I just happened to get a nice, beautiful, Cadillac in from a man who owed his bookie some money and he had to uh, raise cash immediately or he’d be in real big trouble with the bookie. So, I bought the car for, I don’t know,  $2,000 and in comes this gentleman looking for a radio for his car. And I explained to him, “I have a beautiful radio outside, with a beautiful Cadillac wrapped around that radio!” So he went out there and saw that car. He says, “That’s a nice car. Now, don’t you sell that. How much you want?” So I told him, “$5,000” and he said, “I’ll be back, I’m going to go up to my Credit Union and try to get a loan and see if we can buy the car. Don’t sell it. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” So sure enough, 2 or 3 hours later he came back with another gentleman all dressed real nice. He had a derby on and a walking stick, and his briefcase. And he said, “We’d like to examine the vehicle before we make a loan.” So we opened the back door he saw that Cadillac and he told him, “Listen, that car is MINE!” So he wrote me the check and off he drove and then I sold the other guy the radio on top of it. I cleaned up two times on that one.

Christina: That’s some good thinking and hard work.

Uncle Bob: That’s right. You’ve got to use hard work and brains. If you have one or the other, hard work is no good without a brain. And a brain is no good without hard work. It’s got to come together. Isn’t that true?

Christina: It’s very true. That’s a good point.

Uncle Bob: You have to have something to offer that people want and can afford your service. And do your job properly. And don’t lie to people. What you tell them you do. No double-talk. Doesn’t pay. Right? You gotta be straight. Okay. What else? Well, we had one giant guy came in and he was a really big guy. But he was like a mental case. So he walks over to the refrigerator, opens it up, takes out a package of bologna or something, and starts heading for the door. So I said, “Hey! Where you going with that?” And he’s looking at me. So I’m going to grab it from him, and he’s putting his hand higher and higher. He’s a really big guy. I couldn’t reach it. So finally, I grabbed his arm and he starts swinging me around on his arm, and my brother Pete came over there, and we got into a big scuffle. And this guy was trying to punch Pete, but his arm wouldn’t move quickly because I was hanging on it. I was off the ground actually. And then he was going like a gorilla, he looked down to see “Why isn’t my arm moving?” And there’s Bob swinging back and forth on his arm. So I jumped on his back. I tried to stick my fingers in his nose to pull him down, and instead, it went in his mouth… the guy bit me. I had to go get a tetanus shot, I had to get stitches. So the next time he came in, I gave him the bologna and a loaf of bread also. And I told him, “Enjoy your lunch!” Yeah, it cost me about $500 to get out of that one so I figure a piece of bologna and a loaf of bread is a bargain. Okay? Is that a nice story?

Christina: Yes, that’s a nice story.

Uncle Bob: That was a true story though. We went out in the street and we were dancing around. I was on his back. You know, going back and forth. So, I grabbed him from here, I pulled him over, my hand went in his mouth and he fell on top of me. The guy weighed over 300 pounds! And he’s laying on top of me, we’re slugging away, and finally, some guy came over, hit him with a club. It quieted him down. And then, I had to go to the hospital. He bit me. The guy bit me! Like a dog. So then he came in, about a week later, he came in again. Actually, I gave him a package of bologna and a loaf of bread, and I told him, “Now here you go, you’re a nice man. Just go out.” Cause he was a psycho.

Christina: Did he ever come back after that?

Uncle Bob: No, I never saw him. Then another guy came and he says, “Uh, can I have an apple?” So my brother says, “Yeah, they’re over there.” So he goes over there, he starts eating the apple. That was your Papou. And he says, “Hey! You gonna pay for the apple?” He says, “You told me I could have it.” So anyway, they get into an arguement. And Louie pulled the apple or whatever was left out of his hand, so the guy, he’s standing there with his arms folded. Thinking. And then he starts taking his clothes off. First his shirt came off, his jacket. So I called the police. I say, “Hey, there’s a guy in here taking off his clothes.” So Chicago policeman, “Is he naked yet?” I go, “Not yet…” So he goes, “Well call us back when he’s naked.” So, about 10 minutes later, I called him back. I said, “All his clothes are off now.” He goes, “Okay.” So they send a car over there, they come, they grab all his clothes and him, they put a blanket around him and put him in the car. But they took him a few blocks away and dumped him off. He came back and started the same thing all over again. So the second time, we kind of took care of him. He went out the back door. Flying.

Christina: And you explained very nicely and gently to him…

Uncle Bob: Oh, gently! Oh! And then this other man, one day, he broke our window for some reason. He threw a rock through the window. So now we grabbed him and all these people were around there. So I didn’t want to rough him up, so I said, “Pete! This man is obviously injured, let’s take in back. Look, he’s got a little cut. Let’s take him in back and bandage him up. Boy! We took him in the back room, did we bandage him up! Oh ba-boom, boom! So we throw him out the back door and about 5 minutes later…BAM, BAM, BAM. I open the door, he goes, “Where’s my ball-point pen?!” So we pulled him back in again, worked him over again and threw him out a second time. Phew, that was funny.

Christina: He came back for his pen?

Uncle Bob: Yeah! He says, “Where’s my ball-point pens?” Well, we cashed this one guy’s check one day for him and he’s counting his money as he’s going out the door. Some guy sees him going out, counting the money, and snatches it on him. So we ran over, we were trying to grab him and he went into like a karate stance and he’s backing up, backing up, backing up towards the curb. But my brother John was unloading a truck and he was on top of, you know, on the platform of the truck. And this guy was backing up, he came right by the truck. And John had a case of ham that weighs 72 lb, in a wooden crate, and he took that thing and threw it right down on the guy’s head like a jack-hammer. Oh, we got the guy’s money back for him. And the other guy, he became 6 inches shorter when he got up. John dropped…John he was, he would lose his head that guy. The guy was a maniac. You know, he’s a nice, calm guy, but if he freaked out, LOOK OUT!

Christina: Um, what about the monkey story?

Uncle Bob: Well, that’s not too good of a story. We had a guy came in, said he’s leaving town and he had a monkey for some reason. He’s in a cage. And he says, “I’m leaving town, do you want to buy this monkey?” And I said, “I don’t want this monkey. Get out of here.” He says, “Just give me $10…anything! I got to get rid of this thing.” “Alright.” So we just happened to have a bunch of groceries, wholesale stuff, come in and all the cases are on the floor and I put the monkey on top of the boxes and 10 minutes later, in comes a railroad conductor. And I swear they had the same hairline. He almost looked, it looked like his son. The only thing, it had a tail. Otherwise, it looked like his son, I’m telling you. So he’s looking. “Is that monkey for sale?” I say, “Well…” He says, “How much you want for him?” I said, “$50” He goes, “Oh good!” He took the monkey, off he went. Half an hour later, he came running back, “I gotta get some bananas!” I go, “What’s the matter?” “We let the monkey out in the train- where they rest, the conductors. We let him out of the cage, he went up into the ventilator shaft, he’s running all over the railroad station in the ventilating shafts. I gotta get him, if the boss finds that monkey, I’m going to really be in trouble! Get me some bananas. What does he eat? Peanuts? Give me something!” His son got into the ventilating shafts.

Christina: So on top of the $50 monkey, you sold him bananas?

Uncle Bob: And then I sold him bananas and peanuts. That’s right. I never thought of that. Good idea. But this guy looked like the monkey. Believe it or not. He had the hairline. They looked at eachother…it was love at first sight!

Christina: That’s a good story. I think this is good material, you guys.

Uncle Bob: Well, okay. If you don’t get sued!

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